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A hat-trick of huge significance for club

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Consistent success is what Tigers have been known for – the club have generally stayed away from fleeting appearances at the top table.

Going back to the early days, Tigers won the Midland Cup – as the only silverware on offer at that time – eight times in a row in a run of 12 wins in 16 years.

Then came the John Player Cup hat-trick at Twickenham when club competition went national.

And, of course, there were four Premiership titles in a row to bring in the millennium. And three in four years after ending a short barren spell in 2007.

In Europe, too, Tigers have dealt in multiples and became the first team to win the Heineken Cup in successive years in 2001 and ’02 with a golden generation of players led by Martin Johnson.

Now the academy team have won Under-18 League title three times in a row –two-and-a-half if you’re being really picky after sharing the crown with London Irish this year thanks to a 22-22 draw in the Final last weekend.

And in its own way that is an achievement to rank with any of its predecessors.

Academy rugby provides unique challenges, not least because recruitment is limited geographically and there is a high natural ‘churn’ with a fresh intake every year while the top half in age terms move up or move on.

At teenager levels, players are all at different levels of experience and development as well as from various backgrounds, and they have to come together quickly without the time-served core to a team that coaches can rely on at senior level.

This year, too, Tigers have had a new coaching group at the helm, with Matt Smith, David Mėlė and Tom Harrison guiding the team alongside academy manager Dave Wilks.

The players’ development pathway features the additional commitments of school, exams, career choices, family and friends, and the natural distractions of youth in a hectic period in young lives while also focusing on their rugby present and future.

During the past two seasons Tigers went through the league campaign unbeaten, while the current crop had to bounce back from their first defeat to play in the Final just a week later.

The fact they conceded a try in the opening minutes against the competition’s top scorers and then came back from a 10-point deficit speaks volumes, as does the fact they closed out the game defending a penalty five metres from their own line to guarantee at least one hand on the trophy for another year.

It is an immense credit to all of them over the last three years to play a part in this chapter of the Tigers’ success.